News & Events

Vaccines for Servicemembers? Professor Mark Nevitt Speaks to VOA News

(VOA News | July 17, 2021) With the rate of Americans fully vaccinated for COVID-19 stalling at close to 50%, a growing number of U.S. public schools, colleges and private companies have turned to a controversial legal tool to get more people immunized: vaccine mandates.

Nearly 600 colleges and universities will require students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated before returning to campus in the fall, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, while some public school districts are mandating teachers and administrators to provide proof of vaccinations. Many private businesses have also announced vaccination requirements for employees.

With experts saying 70% or more of Americans need to be vaccinated or immune to COVID in order for the country to achieve “herd immunity,” mandatory vaccination has emerged as a weapon in the fight against the deadly coronavirus variants …

… President Joe Biden pledged that he would not make vaccinations mandatory in the military. However, that could change depending on circumstances, and he could waive an “informed consent requirement” for members of the military, according to Mark Nevitt of the Syracuse University College of Law …

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Trump’s Secret Subpoenas: Professor William C. Banks Discusses with Bloomberg Law

Trump DOJ Secret Subpoenas Crossed Line

(Bloomberg Law | July 15, 2021) National security law expert William Banks, a professor at Syracuse University College of Law, discusses the controversy over revelations the Justice Department under former President Donald Trump had secretly subpoenaed records from House Democrats, former White House counsel Don McGahn and members of the media.

Listen to the podcast.

 

Professor Mark Nevitt Publishes “Is Climate Change a Threat to International Peace and Security?”

Is Climate Change a Threat to International Peace and Security?Michigan Journal of International Law, 42 (2021).

The climate-security century is here, writes Professor Mark Nevitt. Both the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the US Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA) recently sounded the alarm on climate change’s “super-wicked” and destabilizing security impacts.

Scientists and security professionals alike reaffirm what we are witnessing with our own eyes: The earth is warming at a rapid rate; climate change affects international peace and security in complex ways; and the window for international climate action is slamming shut.

 

Bonhomme Richard Fire Inquiry: Professor Mark Nevitt Discusses with Military.com

One Year After the Bonhomme Richard Fire, Questions Remain Unanswered

(Military Times | July 12, 2021) … There could be several reasons for the silence and delay, according to Mark Nevitt, a former aviator and judge advocate attorney in the Navy, who spoke with Military.com about the investigation. Nevitt is now a professor at the Syracuse University College of Law.

Aside from the usual privacy and national security redactions, Nevitt said that pending criminal charges can delay an investigation.

“If you have a recommendation that is related to training, to readiness, to how watch is done, you don’t have the same sort of criminal law due process concerns associated if [you] charge a Navy sailor with a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” he explained.

Nevitt also noted that the Navy may have already taken some administrative action, “which could be non-judicial punishment,” away from the public eye.

“Firing people … removing people from the watchstand, or having people administratively separated for some kind of underlying administrative misconduct” are all things that could have already occurred, he said.

“It seems likely to me that, if there is a formal court-martial, that would take place following the completion of the investigation and the endorsements by the [Pacific Fleet] commander,” Nevitt said.

Jeff Houston, a spokesman for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS, said that its investigation into the fire remains ongoing. Houston added that no charges have been filed at this time.

“Out of respect for the investigative process, NCIS does not comment on or confirm details relating to ongoing investigations,” he said in a statement.

More broadly, Nevitt argues that the wait is understandable given the scope of the incident …

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Professor Mark Nevitt: NATO’s Renewed Focus on Climate Change & Security—What You Need to Know

(Just Security | June 23, 2021) Last week, the 30 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member States released two important security documents: the Brussels Summit Communiqué as well as a Climate Change and Security Action Plan. The Communiqué reaffirmed NATO’s pledge to its founding document, the 1951 Washington Treaty and stated that it is “firmly committed” to the treaty’s critical Article 5 collective self-defense provision. Article 5 bonds each NATO member together, explicitly stating that an attack against one ally is considered an attack against all allies. This Communique represented a welcome departure from the former Administration’s approach to NATO, which failed to even reaffirm the United States’ historic commitment to Article 5.

In addition, the Communiqué also reinvigorated NATO’s approach to climate change, characterizing climate as a security “threat multiplier” and “one of the defining challenges of our times.” In doing so, the Communiqué endorsed NATO’s new Action Plan on Climate Change and Security, which was released the same day. This pithy but powerful plan — just three pages – expressly acknowledges climate change’s role in state political fragility, conflict, displacement, and migration. It also specified four specific action items to keep an eye on:

  1. Awareness: Increase climate awareness among allies via an annual Climate Change and Security Impact Assessment.
  2. AdaptationAdapt to climate change by incorporating climate change considerations into its work on many areas to include defense planning, training and exercises, and disaster response.
  3. Mitigation: Mitigate NATO’s contribution of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by developing a novel “mapping and analytical methodology” for GHG emissions from military activities and installations.
  4. Outreach: Enhance outreach with a broad swath of climate-partners to include international and regional organizations, the United Nations, EU, academia, and industry.

NATO’s Climate Action Plan reinforces NATO’s commitment to prepare for the climate-security century. As I have previously argued, the future will increasingly be shaped by climate change’s destabilizing impacts — a vision now clearly shared by all 30 NATO members. NATO’s Brussels Communiqué and Climate Action Plan represent welcome, forward-looking steps on climate change. NATO’s focus on climate change is also completely aligned with President Biden’s Interim National Security Strategy, a key, strategic-level national security planning document where “climate” is mentioned 27 times.

Despite these bold pronouncements, questions remain on translating NATO’s bold, strategic climate initiatives into action. As NATO implements the Action Plan, I highlight three questions to help focus our collective attention.

1. How Does the NATO Climate Plan Translate into NATO Arctic Operations?

While the NATO Climate Plan does not explicitly mention the Arctic (a missed opportunity, in my opinion), the Plan should nevertheless signal a shift in NATO’s approach to the rapidly changing Arctic operational environment. Due to climate change, scientists estimate that the Arctic is warming 2-3 times faster than the rest of the world. That pace appears to be accelerating, due to a pernicious feedback melting loop. There even remains the possibility of an ice-free Arctic summer by 2035. This massive melt is opening new navigational trade routes for civilian and military vessels through the Northwest Passage (through Canada) and the Northern Sea Route (along the Russian coastline). Vessels are now increasingly able to transit once impenetrable waterways and are beginning to assess the risks of other historic routes, such as the crowded — and sometimes blocked — Suez Canal. Climate change is also renewing the possibility of natural resource extraction on each Arctic coastal state’s continental shelf. An estimated 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas lies on the Arctic seabed …

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Professor William C. Banks Speaks to Bloomberg Law About Secret DOJ Subpoenas

Trump DOJ Secret Subpoenas Crossed Line

(Bloomberg Law | June 15, 2021) National security law expert William Banks, a professor at Syracuse University College of Law, discusses the controversy over revelations the Justice Department under former President Donald Trump had secretly subpoenaed records from House Democrats, former White House counsel Don McGahn and members of the media.

Listen to the podcast.

 

Mike Flynn and Military Law: Professor Mark Nevitt Speaks to The Washington Post

Why the Pentagon isn’t heeding calls to prosecute Michael Flynn under military law

(The Washington Post | June 5, 2021) When Michael Flynn, a retired three-star general, appeared to back calls for a coup last week, critics accused him of defying military deference to civilian authority, a tenet that is central to the ethos of the armed forces.

Speaking at a QAnon-themed conference in Texas, Flynn was asked why a coup similar to one that occurred in Myanmar could not happen in the United States. Flynn, President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, has remained a vocal supporter of the former president and the false assertion he won a second term in office.

“I mean, it should happen here,” Flynn responded to the questioner, a man who identified himself as a Marine. “No reason.”

While Flynn subsequently disavowed any support for a coup on social media, saying his words had been misrepresented by the media, the comments intensified calls from some lawmakers and other critics for the military to prosecute the former officer, who receives a military pension, for sedition …

… According to Mark Nevitt, a former military lawyer who teaches law at Syracuse University, most of the instances in which the military had used the UCMJ to hold retirees accountable have had a “clear military nexus,” for example when an incident occurs on a military base or involves a military victim …

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The Climate Challenge: Professor Mark Nevitt Interviewed by Yale Climate Connections

Revitalized U.S. urgency on climate change and national security

(Yale Climate Connections | May 7, 2021) “An urgent national security threat.” That’s the phrase U.S. Director of National intelligence Avril Haines used in describing climate change at the White House Climate Summit on Earth Day a few weeks ago.

It’s the kind of language that national security interests have applied previously, but not since the Trump administration took office on January 20, 2017, and soon put the kibosh on such talk. Conversations about climate change and national security continued under the Trump presidency, but not so much in the open, and certainly not with the imprimatur of the Oval Office …

… While climate change and global security for some time have been a topic of policy deliberations, the Global Trends 2040 report brings climate change to the forefront more than any of its predecessors had done.

“It’s a pretty clear-eyed objective report,” [Professor Mark] Nevitt said. “There’s five different themes on the first few pages. And climate change is right there with the global challenges, right there with technology, disruption, disease, financial crisis.”

Sikorsky said the team putting together the report knew climate change would need to be emphasized more than in earlier years. The report, she said, is informed by data and models, and also through conversations with experts and qualitative research.

“The authors travel around the globe, and meet with people and talk to them about their experiences,” Sikorsky said. “And it’s impossible to have those conversations in a lot of the world without climate change being discussed as something that’s shaping people’s everyday lives already.”

Nevitt noted that he is pleased the report digs into areas like attribution science which is used to understand the role climate change plays in shaping weather events, and also explores the importance of feedback loops. “That’s sort of the cutting edge of climate science that’s being integrated into an intelligence document,” He said. “That shows me that there’s a real active engagement, it’s not passive.”

Nevitt’s only qualm? He is concerned the report may be overly optimistic about how much the international community can agree on a critical point: quickly reducing, and perhaps also eliminating, greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent exceeding 1.5°C of warming even earlier than the report expects …

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“A Specialized Society?” Professor Mark Nevitt Discusses Monitoring Military for Domestic Extremists in The Washington Post

The Pentagon wants to take a harder line on domestic extremism. How far can it go?

(The Washington Post | May 5, 2021) Pentagon officials are considering new restrictions on service members’ interactions with far-right groups, part of the military’s reckoning with extremism, but the measures could trigger legal challenges from critics who say they would violate First Amendment rights.

Under a review launched by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Defense Department officials are reexamining rules governing troops’ affiliations with anti-government and white supremacist movements, ties that currently are permissible in limited circumstances.

Austin, who has pledged zero tolerance for extremism, ordered the review after the events of Jan. 6, when rioters including a few dozen veterans — and a handful of current service members — stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the presidential election results …

Mark Nevitt, a former Navy lawyer who teaches at the Syracuse University College of Law, pointed to other cases in which courts have characterized the military as a “specialized society separate from society.”

“Federal courts will likely provide a healthy dose of deference to the military if challenged, particularly if the military can link the new definition to the underlying military mission and good order and discipline,” he said …

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A DPA for the 21st Century

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By the Hon. James E. Baker

Some commentators say the field of artificial intelligence is ungovernable. It covers many fields and capabilities, they note, and involves a breadth of private and academic actors, many working in secrecy to protect intellectual property and profit potentials. But it is an overstatement to call AI ungovernable.

Several existing laws and executive orders give various agencies and elected officials tools to regulate the national security development of AI, as does the Constitution. Policymakers should become familiar with these tools, examine their strengths and shortcomings, and become involved in efforts to modify and improve the AI governance architecture. As with other “ungovernable” areas, like nonproliferation, where there are also myriad actors and challenges, we can design an effective governance architecture if we are purposeful about doing so. This paper considers one of the most important potential tools in this effort, the Defense Production Act (DPA); however, it would be a more effective tool if updated and used to its full effect.

AI development depends on hardware, data, talent, algorithms, and computational capacity.1 Thus, any law that can (1) help ensure an adequate supply of these assets and in appropriate form; and (2) prioritize the use of these assets to achieve national security policy objectives is an important national security tool. That is not to say the DPA’s full authority should be used at this time. Extraordinary tools, such as the DPA’s allocation authority, might more appropriately be used at a moment of emergency, for example, in time of conflict or should another nation achieve an AI breakout creating decisive security advantage.

Thus, at this time, the most important function a debate about the use of the DPA for AI purposes can serve is to shape and condition expectations and understandings about the role such authorities should, or could, play, as well as to identify essential legislative gaps so that we do not learn of these gaps (and are not hesitant to use the authority we have) when the authority is needed. However, in less dramatic manner, the DPA’s other authorities might well be used, or more fully used at this time to shore up America’s AI supply line, as illustrated with the examples below.

While obscure to the public, the DPA got a burst of national attention in early 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic began overwhelming U.S. hospitals, first in New York City and then elsewhere. In the absence of federal leadership, in March 2020 national security specialists familiar with the DPA urged its full use to mobilize the nation’s capacity to provide medical equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) to address COVID-19.

In April 2020, as the spreading virus was depleting national supplies of ventilators and PPE for health workers, President Donald Trump generated headlines by invoking the DPA, ostensibly to compel businesses to manufacture such equipment. A second order authorized the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to “use any and all authority available” under the DPA to acquire N95 respirator masks from 3M. By mid-July, however, CNN noted that “the Trump administration has made only sparing use of its authorities [under DPA], leaving front-line workers in dire need of supplies like masks, gowns and gloves.”2

The Trump Administration did eventually use the DPA during the second half of 2020 to prioritize contracts (eighteen times to channel raw materials to the manufacture of vaccines and therapeutics) and to incentivize the production of medical supplies like testing swabs; however, the DPA was never used to full effect, nor in a strategic and transparent manner.

In contrast, as a candidate for the White House, President Biden promised full use of the DPA to put the United States on a “war time” footing to meet COVID supply chain challenges. Since assuming office, the Biden Administration has used the DPA, and other laws, to address bottlenecks in the supply chain for components needed for vaccine manufacture and to prioritize supply contracts to allow Merck to assist in making Johnson & Johnson vaccines. In addition, the Biden Administration has used Title III financing authorities to incentivize the building of factories and supply lines for COVID tests and rubber plants for medical gloves.

What is significant here, is not just that the Biden Administration used the DPA to provide vaccine capacity to plug supply chain gaps, it did so after the president-elect and then president conditioned industry for its use in this manner and directed the federal government to lean into the law. It also made “friendly” use of the DPA, identifying needs in consultation and partnership with industry, with a focus on the result rather than the means. These are lessons worth noting in the AI context going forward. With COVID, as with AI, the legal policy question is not whether and how to use the DPA to accomplish a task but how to use the full range of available law effectively, purposefully to meet the nation’s needs, and in a manner consistent with our values. With COVID, it turned out, the DPA was one of several laws that could be used to harness America’s industrial capacity to address the pandemic.

The government’s handling of the pandemic is a topic for another day. The point here is that the mere mention of the DPA’s potential clout reinforced the view, in some people’s eyes at least, that the law is a vehicle to “nationalize” industry, a “commandeering” authority, which empowers the government to take over and run the nation’s defense industries. This fed into an already existing narrative about government regulation and opposition from the Chamber of Commerce.

In fact, as this paper shows, the DPA contains many different authorities, some narrow and others potentially broad in scope. It is important for policymakers to understand that the DPA is not limited to military equipment and actions, and its powers are not solely addressed to, or limited to, “commandeering.” Rather, the law establishes a national mobilization capacity to bring the industrial might of the U.S. to bear on broader national security challenges, including technology challenges and public health challenges. Thus, the DPA is both a potential macro tool and a micro tool. Its application to artificial intelligence can be substantial.


  1. Ben Buchanan, “The AI Triad and What It Means for National Security Strategy” (Center for Security and Emerging Technology, August 2020), https://cset.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/CSET-AI-Triad-Report.pdf
  2. Priscilla Alvarez, Curt Devine, Drew Griffin, and Kristen Holmes, “Trump administration’s delayed use of 1950s law leads to critical supplies shortages,” CNN, July 14, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/13/politics/delayed-use-defense-production-act-ppe-shortages/index.html